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Poetry Festival Director Steve Myers on 2005 Keynote Poet David Wagoner:

“To fully appreciate the long and eminently distinguished literary career of David Wagoner, simply pick up a copy of Traveling Light: Collected and New Poems (1999). Begin at the beginning, read through to the end, then stop, to paraphrase Carroll’s Alice. Now go back and try to point to a poem that hasn’t fairly won its place in this 300-plus page collection, comprised of work that dates back as far as the early 1950s. What poet other than Kunitz can claim a body of work so relentlessly passionate and so wonderfully well-crafted, composed over such a long arc of time? And funny! For all the wisdom of the sure-footed short lyrics such as “Lost,” and for all the extended meditations on the natural world and its poor fork’d creatures (see, for example, “Walt Whitman Bathing”), Wagoner will occasionally show you wit reminiscent of the best seventeenth-century poets. His 38-year stewardship of Poetry Northwest could stand as literary legacy enough for one person, but beyond exists this continuous flow of music, decades and decades long, which—remarkable!—shows not one sign of abating.”

Three Poems by David Wagoner

Walt Whitman Bathing

After his stroke, he would walk into the woods
On sunny days and take off all his clothes
Slowly, one plain shoe
And one plain sock at a time, his good right hand
As gentle as a mother’s, and bathe himself
In a pond while murmuring
And singing quietly, splashing awhile
And dabbling at his ease, white hair and beard
Afloat and still streaming
Down his white chest when he came wading ashore
Naked and quivering. Then he would pace
In circles, sometimes dancing
A few light steps, his right leg leading the way
Unsteadily but considerately for the left
As if with an awkward partner.

He seemed as oblivious to passersby
A he was to his bare body, which was no longer
A nursery for metaphors
Or a banquet hall for figures of self-praise
But a bedroom or a modest bed in that bedroom
Or the covers on that bed
In need of airing out in the sunlight.
He would sit down on the bank and stare at the water
For an hour as if expecting
Something to emerge, some new reflection
In place of the old. Meanwhile, he would examine
The postures of wildflowers,
The workings of small leaves, holding them close
To his pale eyes while mumbling inaudibly.
He would dress then, helping
His left side with his right as patiently
As he might have dressed the wounded or the dead.
And would lead himself toward home like a dear companion.

For a Woman Who Phoned Poetry Northwest Thinking It Was Poultry Northwest

How can you give your chickens a quick molt?
Madam, no earthly and no heavenly knowledge
Is alien to poets or their organs
Of inspiration. Feed your whole flock lightly
For two full weeks. They’ll lose weight and forget
To lay eggs. Next, feed them heavily
On rations lavishly rich in nitrogen.
They’ll molt then, and their new plumage will be
Beautifully close-bedded against winter.

Think of us out in the cold in our old feathers
As you scatter grain. We are sincerely yours.

By a Waterfall

Over the sheer stone cliff-face, over springs and star clusters
Of maidenhair giving in and in to the spray
Through thorn-clawed crookshanks
And gnarled root ends like vines where the sun has never from dawn
To noon or dusk come spilling its cascades,
The stream is falling, at the brink
Blue-green but whitening and churning to pale rain
And falling farther, neither as rain nor mist
But both now, pouring
And changing as it must, exchanging all for all over all
Around and past your shape to a dark-green pool
Below, where it tumbles
Over another verge to become a stream once more
Downstream in curving slopes under a constant
Cloud of what it was
And will be, and beside it, sharing the storm of its arrival,
Your voice and all your words are disappearing
Into this water falling.